Business English for job applications: writing your CV and cover letter

A recruiter or potential employer will form their first impressions of you from your CV and cover letter, so it is worth spending time getting them right.

Here are some tips and useful language to use to stand out from the other applicants.

CV

1. Companies often use a computer programme called the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to screen for the best candidate and filter out the rest. There are a few things you can do to make sure your CV is seen by a human:

  • Use the right format. Microsoft Word is commonly used but always check the job advertisement to see what is required.
  • Keep the structure and format simple and use standard fonts. Avoid excessive decorative elements which might be unreadable to the ATS and cause it to reject your CV.
  • Use traditional categories to break your CV into sections. The most used sections are: 

    Achievements
    Personal statement
    Education
    Professional qualifications
    Skills
    Work experience
    Interests
  • Include keywords and expressions used in the job description or advertisement, or words commonly used in the relevant industry.

For example, here is an example of a profile with relevant key words underlined:

‘I have over 10 years’ experience leading teams in fast-paced retail outlets and a proven track record in designing key strategies.

An exceptional motivator who generates high levels of employee morale and engagement.’

2. Here are some phrases you can use for the Skills section:

  • Customer focused
  • Budget management
  • Profit and loss management
  • Complaint resolution
  • People focused
  • Advanced computer literacy
  • SAGE (expert level)
  • Expert at...

3. Here are phrases you can use for the Education and Professional qualifications sections:

  • I completed 55 hours of corporate training on topics including...
  • I have a degree in...
  • I completed an online marketing course on topics including...

4. Here are examples of phrases you can use for the Interests section:

  • Running - ran in a race to raise money for Breast Cancer awareness.
  • Cooking - recently took a course “How to cook the perfect Mediterranean dish”
  • Studying English with The London School of English (upper intermediate level)

5. Here are examples you can use for the Work Experience section:

  • I was brought in to improve an underperforming store.
  • I played an integral [or important] part in a team of consultants working on... This position required familiarity with networking solutions and web design and involved liaising with...
  • I was responsible for managing....
  • I managed a language training programme for...
  • I coordinated an office reorganisation project.
  • I monitored customer buying habits and adjusted 50 product lines and sales promotions
  • I managed stock control and received orders for 100 products.
  • I won a company award for being ‘Manager of the month’, ‘relationship centered’
  • I successfully...
  • I attended meetings and undertook daily cold calling to generate leads
  • I delivered presentations to close sales worth 10k in net revenue.

6. References section

A reference is the contact name and details ofa previous employer.  The recruiting company can directly contact your previous employer to verify the information you have provided about your role there. Providing a reference is something you will need to do if you are applying for a job in the UK; usually you will need to provide two.

Here is an example:

Linda Stott

The London School of English [the company name]

15 Holland Park Gardens [physical address]

London W14 8DZ

Email address: example@londonschool.com

Some people prefer to give the reference information on request – this is written as follows:

References provided on request.

7. Finally, did you know that 73% of recruiters will search for you on LinkedIn after viewing your CV? 19% will search for you on Twitter or Facebook. Make sure that your profile on social media networks does not contradict what is on your CV.

Cover letters

There are some key points to consider before you start writing your cover letter:

  • Cover letters offer you a great chance to signpost your strengths and connect with the person reading your CV.
  • Research the company you are applying for a job with, and use your cover letter to demonstrate your findings.
  • Think about what you have to offer to the employer based on the job role and your research into the company.
  • Make sure you use the correct title and name used in the job advertisement.
  • Keep the letter short and to the point. The ideal length is 2-3 short paragraphs.
  • Write the letter in a suitable tone. For example, if you want to apply for a job with a bank your letter should be written in a style the financial industry requires. Also consider the culture of the company you are applying to.
  • Make sure that you include the most important key words from the job advertisement in the cover letter.  
  • Don’t forget to explain in your letter why you are interested in the role and why you would like to work in the organisation. 
  • Before you push the send button, check your grammar, spelling and the names of people or companies. Any mistakes look very unprofessional; up to 83% of recruiters say that spelling mistakes is the most common error.

Here is an example of a cover letter. There are 12 mistakes; can you find them?

Dear Mr White,

Please find enclosed my CV in application for the post advertised in the Guardian in 15 October.

The nature of my degree course has prepared me to this position. It involved a great deal to independent research, requiring initiative, self-motivation, and a wide range of skills.

I am a fast and accurate researcher, with a keen eye on detail and I should be very happy for the opportunity to progress to market reporting. I am able for take on the responsibility of this position immediately and have the happiness and determine to ensure that I did a success of it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this application and I look forward in hearing from you in the near future.

Best wishes

 And here is the correct version:

Dear Mr White

Please find enclosed my CV in application for the post advertised in The Guardian on the 15th of October.

The nature of my degree course has prepared me for this position. It involved a great deal of independent research, requiring initiative, self-motivation, and a wide range of skills.

I am a fast and accurate researcher, with a keen eye for detail and I should be very grateful for the opportunity to progress to market reporting. I am able to take on the responsibility of this position immediately and have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my application and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Yours sincerely
 [if you have the surname of the person and you do not know them]

Yours faithfully [if you do not have the name of the person e.g. Dear Sir/ Madam]

This blog has been written at level C2. Practise your reading and listening by reading the blogs below.
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